The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is a fable that, although light in tone, is deceptively ambitious. Set in France, Italy, Spain, Libya, England, and India, this tale is essentially several movies rolled into one, and I was surprisingly swept away by the experience.
Aja (Dhanush) has lived in Mumbai for most of his life, but after his mother’s passing he ventures to France to find his father for a hopeful meeting at the Eiffel Tower. Growing up in poverty has led Aja and his friends to become street performers, and as Aja spins his magical web, his colleagues pickpocket the tourists and onlookers to make ends meet.
As a child Aja has always been obsessed with the Ikea catalogue (the picture is based on Romain Puértolas’ bestselling novel The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Caught In An Ikea Wardrobe). Thus Aja’s first stop in France is at an Ikea, where he is immediately smitten by an American woman named Marie (an equally invested Erin Moriarty). The pair have undeniable chemistry (their bantering is cute as can be), and a City of Lights romance between the two is a foregone conclusion.
Director Ken Scott (Starbuck, Delivery Man) has much more story to tell in a seemingly brisk 92 minutes, and not a second is wasted in this beguilingly charming tale. Aja, as the novel’s moniker suggests, is unwittingly trapped and finds himself thousands of miles away from France. During his winding trek he encounters refugees (one of whom is played by Captain Phillips‘ Barkhad Abdi) on their way to England and befriends a disenchanted actress (Bérénice Bejo).
Aja’s tale is also framed in flashback, as he tells his life story to four children who are headed off to prison. So one has to wonder if Aja’s “extraordinary journey” is actually a factual one (fables, of course, are not blow-by-blow accounts of the truth!). That being said, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir’s heart and soul lies in its love for the intrinsic power of storytelling and the need for reaching out to one’s neighbor. Such themes may be deemed heavy handed or ill-fitting for a seemingly light comedy, but Scott subtly and organically weaves them into the narrative.
Along with shooting around the world, Scott injects a couple of musical numbers that are also well executed (the first one, dealing with a dry humored immigration officer, was refreshingly out of left field). Dhanush, a huge international star, infuses Aja with a likability and earnestness without getting corny, and his innate charisma anchors the narrative.
A healthy amount of screen time is also given to Marie’s life, and though she wonders what became of Aja, she’s also considering simply moving on and giving up her own fantasy of what could have been. These moments, most notably her back and forth discussions with her roomate (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse), are also welcome additions to a story that has its unpredictable moments.
On a surface level, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir can be appreciated as an entertaining experience, but don’t be surprised if the film’s deeper explorations bring about a much more sublime reaction. Ultimately I was surprised at how this film’s unabashed openness and lack of cynicism affected my all too deadened heart.
Maybe I’ll add a trip to my local Ikea to enhance my own personal journey. Since I’m not as clever or resourceful as Aja, Paris will have to wait.
Rating: 4 out 5
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is now playing in select theaters.